Corn Commentary

Iowa E15 Takes Unwanted Summer Vacation

When customers arrived at Linn Coop Oil Company in Marion, Iowa the morning of June 1 to fill up their 2001 and newer model vehicles with 15% ethanol they were surprised to find the pumps bagged as “out of order.”

e15-bagged“I had three consumers come in and ask me why the pumps were bagged and I said it’s because we can’t sell it,” said manager Jim Becthold. “It’s really hard on the consumer to understand the rules and regulations as they come down to us.”

What is really “out of order” is regulations that make it impossible for retailers like Linn Coop in Iowa to get the proper blendstock for E15 that is necessary during the summer months. “We’ll be able to sell it again on September 15, but through the summer months with the high gas prices, we can’t offer that fuel,” he said. “Really can’t see why we can’t do that. We can sell E10, E85, E30, but we can’t sell E15.” Bechtold faced the same situation last summer as he was preparing to offer E15.

Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) sees the issue as part of a “war on renewables being funded by Big Oil.”

“Consumers who want a higher grade ethanol blend (E15) are being denied that choice,” said Braley, who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). He notes that is exactly why Congress passed the RFS in the first place, “to make sure that we were providing a cleaner burning fuel that would help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide consumers greater choices at a lower cost.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association held a press conference at Bechtold’s station Monday morning to draw attention to the situation. “We’re not asking for something that doesn’t exist,” said executive director Monte Shaw. “The gasoline blendstock we need to make E15 in the summer is available, it flows through the very pipeline system that services Iowa, but they will not let us take it out of the pipeline here.”

Listen to press conference here: Iowa RFA E15 press conference

Earlier this year, Iowa’s E15 retailers sent a letter to the oil refiners asking them to provide the proper summertime gasoline blendstock for E15. The letter noted that such fuels are already transported by the pipeline servicing Iowa. Yet, as of the June 1st summertime deadline, no oil refiner allowed Iowa retailers access to the necessary fuel. That refusal forced Linn Coop Oil Company and Iowa’s other E15 retailers to stop selling E15 as a registered fuel to 2001 and newer vehicles.

So, until and unless Braley and others can get the rule changed, E15 remains on summer break in Iowa and consumers will have to pay more at the pump when they go on their summer vacations.

More Moms Bring Home the Bacon, But Do They Know Where It Came From?

pigThis week, the Pew Research Center released its analysis of Census and polling data showing that four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary earner for her family. Coupled with the notion that consumer food questions are on the rise, the importance of communicating the real story of American agriculture to America’s moms becomes evident.

Progressive Farmer Editor-in-Chief Gregg Hillyer took note of this point, sharing his insight into the issue in the “We’d Like to Mention” section magazine’s June/July edition. The story, which looks at the effectiveness of opening a conversation about food and farming between moms on and off the farm, took particular note of CommonGround, a program founded to do just that by the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.

In the article, Hillyer sites from interviews with CommonGround volunteers about why this program serves a growing need in our society.

“As our population continues to shift from rural to urban communities, people become more disconnected from their food,” pointed out CommounGround Kentucky volunteer Carrie Divine. “We’re here… to provide moms with useful information so they can worry less and feel more confident in their food choices.”

Concluding that “afterall, moms always know best,” Hillyer shares the incredible story of these volunteer farm moms on a mission with the agricultural community. For helping illuminate the efforts underway to start an honest, open dialogue about farming with the general public, he is to be commended.

Information about CommonGround, including ways to join the conversation, is always available. To learn more, click here.

One Sweet Century

100th Anniversary LogoAs we noted in a previous post, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and what a sweet century is has been!

“We’re very proud of having been around that long to serve the interests of our industry,” said CRA Director of Communications David Knowles during the recent NAFB Washington Watch event. “The corn refining industry actually goes back about 170 years,” he noted.

According to the CRA website, corn refining began in the United States around the time of the civil war with the development of the process for corn starch hydrolysis. Prior to this time, the main sources for starch had been wheat and potatoes. In 1844, the Wm. Colgate & Company wheat starch plant in Jersey City, N.J., became the first dedicated corn starch plant in the world. By 1857, the corn starch industry reached significant proportions in the U.S. Starch was the only product of the corn refining industry. Its largest customer was the laundry business. Today, corn is used for not only starches, but a whole host of other products such as sweeteners, fuel alcohol, oil, and bioproducts. “We’re really proud of the technological innovations that have taken place over the years to improve people’s lives,” David says.

The attacks on high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) in recent years presented the industry with a public relations challenge that they have met with an educational campaign started about five years ago to provide people with information about high fructose corn syrup. “Mainly that it’s nutritionally the same as sugar, is not uniquely responsible for any types of diseases and that sugars and all calories should be consumed in moderation,” said David, noting that their market research has shown the campaign, which includes the SweetSurprise.com website, has made an impact.

David says the industry is as strong as ever and looking forward to another sweet century ahead.

Listen to the interview with David here: David Knowles, Corn Refiners Association

It’s Always Something – Again

Once again, Roseanne Roseannadanna comes to mind this week as farmers manage to almost catch up to normal in planting, but many in Iowa are looking at having to re-plant due to flooded fields.

iowa-floodingIowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey posted this photo on his Facebook page yesterday of an Iowa corn field. “Lots of corn in Iowa is swimming after the weekend rains,” he wrote. “This week’s forecast suggests replanting won’t be happening for a while.”

Iowa farmers planted another 14% of their corn crop last week, bringing the total so far to 85% complete, which is still about 14% below normal for this time of year. Nationwide, however, the total is now at 86%, which is down just 4% from the five year average. Emergence is also starting to catch up, with 54% out of the ground compared to just 19% last week, but down from the 67% average.

Meanwhile, soybean planting is plugging along, still about 37% behind normal. Another 20% was planted last week nationwide, 24% in Iowa – but this photo also from Secretary Northey’s Facebook page shows that some of that planting was in vain.

northy-soybeans“Soybeans planted, but drowned out before they emerged,” writes Northey. That field is located near Rembrandt, towards the northwest corner of the state. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad yesterday declared a disaster emergency in 13 counties in central and northwestern Iowa due to flooding.

This time last year the corn was growing like crazy – nearly 90% emerged – before the water shut off and the drought came. Like Roseanne used to say, “It just goes to show you, it’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

MAIZEALL Unites Corn Farmers of the Americas

The name might sound like a new corn-based laundry detergent, but it’s actually a new alliance between corn growers of North and South America created to address key global issues concerning food security, biotechnology, stewardship, trade and producer image.

maizeallMAIZALL is the International Maize Alliance, signed last week by representatives of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), Argentina organization MAIZAR, and ABRAMILHO (Brazilian Association of Corn Producers). “The main idea is to coordinate communications and speak with a more united voice as producers to the rest of the world,” said US Grains Council president and CEO Tom Sleight. “It adds the farmer’s voice to the already on-going government-to-government, industry-to-industry negotiations.”

Sleight says members of Congress are showing an interest in making global regulatory issues a priority in discussions with international trading partners, which could lead to greater inclusion of market access barriers related to agricultural biotechnology in future bilateral and multilateral trade discussions. “With all these new trade agreements coming down the road – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership – key issues coming in these negotiations are market access, sanitary and phytosanitary agreements and agricultural biotechnology.”

While the primary focus of this new alliance is on the need for better consumer understanding of production agriculture and the benefits of biotechnology, MAIZALL will also conduct outreach to governments and stakeholders on the need for trade-enabling biotechnology policies and regulatory procedures.

Read more here.

Technology Makes Progress Possible

It’s truly amazing to see how quickly farmers can make progress in the field given just a little window of opportunity.

kinze-plantingThat’s what happened last week around the Midwest as the weather got warm and dry enough for growers to plant over 40% of the corn crop in seven days. According to the latest crop progress report, 71% of projected corn acres had been planted as of last Sunday. Illinois farmers jumped from just 17% planted the week ending May 12 to 74% on May 19, just 3% less than the five year average, while progress in Iowa increased by 56 points to 71%. “Farmers have the technology and the drive to accomplish more in a week than we could have in three only a few decades ago,” said Iowa farmer Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “Last week, we knew that we needed a week of drier, warmer weather and, throughout much of the Corn Belt, we got just that.”

While farmers get the credit for working night and day when the window opens, it’s the new technology that really makes the fast pace possible, something noted in a Financial Times article today. “The blistering pace of planting shows how new technology, from global positioning systems and huge 48-row planters to self-driving tractors, has transformed farming from a small family business to an industry requiring huge capital investments. The largest corn planters could cost nearly $350,000 per unit.”

True that the new technology is costly, but it’s important to note that it is still small family businesses making those huge capital investments. As Pam Johnson added in her statement about the progress made last week “our nation’s family farmers will get the crop planted and work just as tirelessly through harvest to make sure that we provide the food, feed and fuel America needs.”

Emergence however is still lagging well behind normal with just 19% emerged nationwide, compared to the 46% average, but as NCGA chairman Garry Niemeyer said in the previous post, with more favorable weather, corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.

The photo in this post comes from the Kinze Manufacturing Facebook page taken last week in Ladora, Iowa by Alan and Barry Mohr.

A Few Words from the Chairman

There was lots of activity of interest to corn farmers last week – both on The Hill and in the field.

garryI caught up with National Corn Growers Association Chairman Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Illinois on Friday as he was busy playing catch up on planting progress. “We are probably about a fourth done with planting corn,” Garry said. “We normally are finished planting corn by the middle of April.” He added that since June 1 is the cutoff date for crop insurance they still have quite a bit of time to get a crop in and “everybody here is feverishly working.” While it has been the longest cold, wet spring that he can remember, Garry says it has really warmed up now in the Midwest and he thinks the corn will probably “come flying out of the ground” now.

Up on Capitol Hill last week, as so many like Garry were busy in the field, two pieces of legislation very important to farmers made significant and long-awaited progress. One was the passage of a new five year farm bill through both the House and Senate Agriculture committees. However, Garry is quick to note that we are still no further along on a new bill than last year at this point. “We never got a House bill to the floor (last year),” Garry noted. “I’m going to hope that the House finishes up, then they go to conference and we get a reasonable bill which will help all American farmers.”

Meanwhile, the Senate finally passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) last week, paving the way for upgrades to the inland waterways system important for farmers. “It’s been a long time, since 2007, since we’ve had a WRDA bill and back before 2000 they used to have a WRDA bill every other year,” Garry says. “Now we just need the funding to get these project moving forward.”

Of specific interest to corn farmers, the bill contains provisions to remove the over-budget and long-delayed Olmsted lock and dam project from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the remainder of the cost to be paid 100 percent by general treasury revenue and not cost-shared 50-50 through the IWTF. This action will free up around $750 million to the IWTF to complete critical priority navigation projects. An increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation, from the current $14 million to $20 million, was approved.

The bill now goes to the House for approval and Garry says they are encouraging farmers to call their representatives in Congress to tell them how important this legislation is to them.

Listen to Garry’s comments here: NCGA Chairman Garry Niemeyer

Media Sees “Massive Farm Bill”

The term “massive farm bill” has been used repeatedly in the general media this week to describe the bills passed out by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, and by “massive” they mean the farm portion of the bill, not the nutrition portion which accounts for 80% of the funding called for in the legislation.

“The Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved a massive five-year farm bill that would cut spending while also creating new subsidies for farmers,” reads the first sentence in an NPR story this week that was picked up and carried verbatim by many other news outlets.

The Senate bill cuts about $400 million out of almost $80 billion spent annually on food stamps, while at the same time cuts $5 billion a year in direct farm payments. The House bill makes deeper cuts in nutrition, about $20 billion over the life of the bill, while the programs for farmers take a hit of more than $18 billion.

lucas“There will be some folks out in the countryside who will say ‘80% of the bill is saving $20 billion and 20% of the bill is saving $18 billion, how can that be fair?'” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas meeting with farm broadcasters Wednesday just before the markup began. “This is the first real reform to the nutrition title in almost 20 years.”

Listen to Lucas’s comments here House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas

The cuts to the nutrition title caused several members of the House committee to vote against the bill, and Lucas is well aware that will be one of the major sticking points when the bill gets to the floor of the House, which he believes will happen next month. “Whatever we do in the committee, many of the battles – whether it is over dairy, or sugar, or the size of the nutrition reforms, will be fought out again on the floor of the United States House,” he said to the farm broadcasters, echoing that sentiment after the bill was passed out of committee late Wednesday night. “We have an adventure ahead of us in June,” he said before banging the gavel to adjourn.

Agriculture groups seem quite willing to accept the disproportionate cuts for farm programs compared to nutrition programs because they want to see a bill passed that will finally allow them some kind of long term security to keep producing food and fiber for the country and the world. As long as there is just enough of a safety net to protect them from going bankrupt trying to do their job, farmers themselves are likely to agree that the bill is fair enough, but not at all “massive.”

What Is in a Name? For Renewable Biofuels, Quite a Bit

It may be trite to define a commonly used term as a lead in to a larger story, but it seems a Texas lawmaker has completely forgotten what the word “renewable” means.

U.S. Representative Pete Oleson (R-TX) wants to rewrite what qualifies as a biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard to include ethanol made from natural gas. Maybe Rep. Oleson was confused by the word natural or maybe his support for the state’s oil industry blinds him, but natural gas, a coproduct formed with petroleum, does not qualify because, intrinsically, it is not renewable.

Congress created the RFS to reduce our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. While they certainly did so to cut pollution, they also wanted to shift our nation’s energy future away from an addiction to a finite resource. As an oil coproduct, natural gas also qualifies as a fossil fuel. The supply of natural gas however, while more abundant than the oil supply, still is finite.

The oil industry’s stranglehold on America’s energy supply should not be tightened by redefining the word renewable. It shouldn’t be tightened at all.

Common sense prevailed when lawmakers crafted the RFS. They had the foresight and wherewithal to create a way to break free from fossil fuels. They created a way to build the greener, more sustainable energy future that renewable biofuels can provide. Today’s lawmakers should exercise the same integrity and deny big oil a backdoor win.

Redefining renewable biofuels will not magically make oil wells that never run dry. A renewable future needs a renewable feedstock. It needs corn.

Why Don’t They Get It?

Driving home from work last night, I was confronted with a story on NPR that showed just how short-sighted and visionless today’s media can be. The reporter characterized the Supreme Court Decision in Bowman v. Monsanto as a victory for big ag at the expense of farmers. Since then, countless radio and television talking heads have repeated this banal banter based in the bogus assumption that paying for something is always a bad thing.

Quite often, paying for something can be a good thing. In this case, paying for the use of a product that requires extensive research and years of testing provides an incentive for companies like Monsanto to develop improved seeds that have the traits farmers want. From corn varieties that can maintain yields under heat or drought stress to plants that have stronger stalks, companies must spend extremely large amounts of money and make astonishing time and resource investments in these traits well before ever seeing one dime of return.

Even large companies need to make a profit in order to reinvest in research and development. Even large companies need an incentive to innovate. Intellectual property rights provide that incentive by creating a fair system in which innovation is rewarded .

Likewise, the companies developing these traits monitor that quality of the products they bring to market. Farmers who invest in their seeds have a clear picture of what they are buying. The further down the genetic line from these original seeds that a farmer gets, the less likely it is that the advantages of the original variety are preserved. In this case, violating intellectual property rights is breaking the law to steal an unknown.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Bowman v. Monsanto was not a victory for big ag at the expense of the farmer. It was a victory for innovators and for the people who need those innovations to thrive in their own profession.

Everyone may grumble when the check comes, but it makes little sense to declare having to pay for a product one wants a loss. When it comes down to it, no one works for free.

Note: CommonGround Kentucky volunteer and family farmer Mary Courtney explained why she feels it is important to pay for GMO technology in a recent interview with Modern Farmer. Check out what she had to say by clicking here.



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